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This article was written by Kathryn Sampias

Kathryn Sampias has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Kathryn was admitted to practice in 2005 and practised law for more than eight years, working both in private practice (mainly in defence litigation for professional indemnity disputes) and in the public service for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in enforcement.

WHS Legislation (Work Health and Safety)


Work health and safety (WHS) is about minimising risks to people who work in the workplace. It is sometimes called occupational health and safety. Ensuring safe practices are followed, and the workplace’s equipment is safe may cost a company money. However, it is a legal requirement, and there are many benefits to ensuring work health and safety.

Failing to implement proper work health and safety practices may cost more money in the long term as staff may become injured at work and claim compensation or regulators may issue fines for breaches. Some of the benefits of implementing proper work health and safety practices include:

  • Retaining staff and preventing them from having to take time off due to illness or injury;
  • Preventing costs from injury and workers’ compensation; and
  • Improving the productivity of your staff.

What does WHS legislation require?

In general WHS laws and WHS legislation require employers and those engaging persons to work for them to:

  • Provide a safe environment for workers;
  • Properly maintain equipment used in workplaces so that it is safe for workers to use;
  • Ensure there are methods for performing tasks in the workplace that are safe;
  • Make sure machinery and products or structures that are used for work are used safely;
  • Properly maintain facilities so that they are safe;
  • Provide any training that is necessary to ensure safety in the workplace; and
  • Continually monitor the safety of the workplace and the health of workers.

Workers also have a duty in regards to work health and safety. They have a duty to ensure their own safety, ensure they do not do anything that could harm others and follow instructions in the workplace in relation to WHS practices, policies and procedures.

WHS laws and WHS legislation in Australia

There are WHS laws and WHS legislation for the Commonwealth and for the states and territories in Australia. In 2008 and 2009, a federal review was conducted into what would be optimal model occupational health and safety laws. A model occupational health and safety act was created through this review, and this model legislation is roughly what has been adopted in all jurisdictions in Australia. There are some minor differences in the legislation between jurisdictions.

The relevant WHS laws and WHS legislation by jurisdiction are the following:

Each jurisdiction also has its own corresponding work health and safety regulator that administers this legislation and enforces the laws contained within it.

What are the main features?

The WHS laws and WHS legislation in Australia have the following features:

  • They impose duties of care on those who engage in business activity or similar undertaking to protect the safety and health of workers and others affected by work they carry out;
  • They impose duties of care on persons who define the processes and procedures for how work is carried out as well as persons who create products that are used in workplaces;
  • They make it a requirement that certain people holding positions of powers at places carrying out business or work must be duly diligent in ensuring compliance with WHS laws;
  • They require certain incidents, such as where workers fall ill, suffer injuries or die at work, to be reported;
  • They establish a framework for certain permissions to be obtained such as licenses, permits and registrations;
  • They allow for consultation, participation and representation to take place within workplaces in relation to workplace health and safety;
  • They allow for processes for resolution about workplace health and safety matters;
  • They provide protection from discrimination in the context of carrying out obligations in relation to work health and safety;
  • They create a permit scheme that allows those authorised by a permit to:
    • Make inquiries into possible contraventions of WHS laws that may affect workers who are members of a union or potential members and who the union is allowed to represent; and
    • Advise such persons about their rights in relation to WHS laws.
  • Provides for an enforcement and compliance scheme including allowing for inspectors to attend at worksites etc.; and
  • Provides powers for making regulations and devising processes, including for allowing for co-operation between jurisdictions.

Different industries require different processes and procedures for work health and safety. Various codes of practice consider how WHS laws and WHS legislation can be followed in these different industries. These codes can be found through the relevant work health and safety regulator in each jurisdiction.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter please contact Armstrong Legal. 

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